Dear Nicholas...

Saturday's Last Night of the Proms marked the end of an era: the concerts completed their centenary and Sir John Drummond stepped down after a decade as director. Next year, Nicholas Kenyon (top left) takes over. Time, perhaps, for the musical world to send him a memo...
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The Independent Culture
Robert Ponsonby, director of the Proms, 1972 to 1985

Dear Nick,

How I envy you! Planning the Proms - hiccups and headaches notwithstanding - must be every impresario's wildest dream. It was certainly the sharpest pleasure of my career.

A tip or two. Don't listen to the lobbies. Do your own thing, balancing great masterpieces with music of great promise. Give all your programmes an innate coherence and, when you can, plan them first; then "cast" them.

Ignore the vulgar hype of the recording companies; but be sure all your artists have personality and can dominate that huge audience. Prefer imaginative performance to humdrum, accurate authenticity; but beware the show-offs. Wand and Boult are more truthful than Bernstein and Karajan.

Pursue some private themes. (Mine included Janacek, Vaughan Williams and Walton - something every year.)

Don't overdo "early" music - and do remember that Klemperer's Beethoven is at least as valid as Norrington's.

Now, some requests.

Restore Henry Wood to the title of the Proms. The BBC has done a fine job - but these concerts are not the BBC Proms, they are the BBC's Henry Wood Proms (for chapter and verse, see the guarantee given by the Director- General in a letter to Sir Henry dated 30 May 1944). And don't try to turn the Albert Hall into a BBC studio; you will destroy the atmosphere - and insult your best supporters.

As to the Last Night - trust the audience (except the Hooray Henrys in the boxes). Allow the Promenaders their end-of-term fun; they won't let you down. Go and talk to them; promenade with them from time to time. Above all, don't, please don't go downmarket (as - forgive me - Radio 3 has done). The Proms will survive so long as you challenge that amazing audience. And so will you.

Good luck! Robert

George Lloyd, bestselling composer of three operas, 12 symphonies, four piano concertos, two violin concertos and `A Symphonic Mass', has never had a work programmed at the Proms, although in 1981 the BBC Philharmonic did play his Sixth Symphony as a last-minute substitute for a BBC commission that never showed

You who organise the Proms get a lot of advice from a variety of sources, but, as I have learnt, it is largely a case of whether your face fits; if it doesn't, too bad. I think the Proms need a liberal outlook but with the emphasis on Western music. There has also been a tendency to pick composers (Mahler this year, for example) and overkill them by exposure.

John Eliot Gardiner, conductor, period-instrument pioneer and founder of the Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique

With your background as poacher turned gamekeeper, you are in a unique position to bring "early music" out of the larder, which has been exclusive for far too long. The arena of the Royal Albert Hall has a wonderful natural acoustic which is rarely exploited. There is a whole area of repertoire, particularly in music-theatre, which could be performed in the round, with the Prommers up on stage and the seated sectios of the audience getting an all round view.

James MacMillan, composer, football fan and 1995 Mercury Prize nominee. His orchestral witch-hunt `The Confession of Isobel Gowdie' won a standing ovation at its 1990 Proms premiere

I would like to see the pluralist nature of contemporary music continue to be covered at the Proms. The Nineties represent a huge diversity of styles and aesthetics, which is good, but there are many competing factions and pressure groups. There is a danger that, in advocating a doctrinaire Modernism, we could allow new music to retreat into a restrictive "bunker" mentality, and this has always worried me.

As a non-factionalist composer, I am equally anxious about the other extreme: the creeping commercial mentality of some new music, which cloyingly and consistently aims at the lowest common denominator of taste. New music should be challenging and complex, but not so self-absorbed and self-referring that it becomes irrelevant.

Django Bates, composer, jazz musician and moving spirit behind the group Loose Tubes, which appeared at the Proms in 1987

I suppose most composers will be asking you to stretch boundaries just enough to include their chosen genre - and their own works will, of course, typify the genre and so be the most suitable! My own request, though, would be that, during the patri/ idiotic Last Night (if you don't axe it altogether), you have completely anarchic, loud Free Jazz performed at the same time as the usual stuff. But if that can't be done, I simply wish, as always, for maximum contrast and quality.

Gillian Moore, head of music education at the South Bank Centre

When I was 14, my parents brought me from Glasgow to London and took me to a Prom. I've been to hundreds since but you never forget your first time. I'd love to see that old Proms magic being exploited to find new audiences for live music. "New audiences?" you cry. "But the Proms reach millions through broadcasting, and it only costs three quid to stand in the Arena!"

True, but would it be too disrespectful to suggest that the kind of person who normally takes advantage of the low-budget conviviality of the Arena is, on the whole, from a particular social group? Personal observation (from my superior position in the Stalls) suggests that this type of Prommer is male, single and white and that, were the season anything other than high summer, he might just be wearing an anorak. I note with approval that the Proms started their first ever education programme this year. But please don't simply concentrate on children - try to reach their parents too. Get out into the streets, into the housing estates, into the play schemes, the day centres, the offices, the works canteens and the dole queues. Take advantage of the excitement, glamour and eclecticism of the Proms to turn a whole new audience on to live music.

Michael Nyman, composer for concert and cinema, including the score for `The Piano'

Under your directorship I hope that programming can become less of a personal fiefdom. I think my own music would be popular at the Proms, but if it stayed under the present administration for another 20 years, I certainly would not have a piece performed.

Trevor Wishart, composer; his `Vox 6' was a Proms commission in 1988

As a nation, we seem unable or unwilling to support innovation. We either cling to old-established patterns long after our European and American cousins have put them aside, or we heap praise on the already successful. Our future looks economically grim because the support for innovation needs to come before the money is made, or the pattern set. We need to believe in ourselves before, rather than after, the fact.

Our national musical life mirrors these false values. As the millennium approaches, we need to stop looking back towards nostalgic 19th-century glories, and concentrate on making our mark in the 21st century.

The Proms, as our national musical showcase, should therefore try to represent all the most exciting currents in today's serious music, especially fields where British musicians lead the world. It is for musics like New Complexity, Free Improvisation, Electro-acoustic and Computer Music, and Experimental Rock that the rest of the world looks to Britain. Let's show them that we're proud of our inventiveness.

Let's provide an arena for the multitude of collaborative cross-media work with video or dance artists, experimental theatre or sound installations that are currently thriving here, and which one would expect to find at any major event in Japan, Germany or the USA. Above all, it's time to trumpet to the world (preferably through a complex live-electronic sound- processing rig) that Britain is a forward-looking musical nation, not simply a guardian of past excellence.

Raymond Gubbay, impresario and promoter of the Barbican's annual Teddy Bear and Valentine's Day concerts

Please can you:

1. Invite the RPO to extend their new Albert Hall residency to include pre-Proms tea dances on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the Elgar Room.

2. Programme the Carnival of the Animals with Ivo Pogorelich and Moura Lympany conducted by Sir Edward Heath.

3. If you must have chamber music performed on period instruments, provide some amplification so that we can hear all that is being played even if we don't always want to.

4. Invite Yehudi Menuhin to conduct the Last Night. It's about time and we would get a wonderful speech (and be home by 2am at the earliest.)

5. After he is appointed Master of the Queen's Music, arrange an evening of Andrew Lloyd Webber's music to show exactly why Puccini is so great.

6. Revive the traditional Gilbert and Sullivan Evenings with John Major and members of the Cabinet in leading roles. Virginia Bottomley would make a lovely Yum Yum, with Michael Heseltine as Pooh Bah, the Lord High Everything Else a sort of self-portrait.

Oh, and good luck, JD is a hard act to follow.

Fritz Spiegl, Liverpudlian (by adoption) flautist, writer and broadcaster

Just as cricket coverage on television has agreed to ignore streakers, so should directors focus on the music, not the exhibitionists. Before TV there was no problem.

Recent years have seen too many trendy experiments: Wood got it right a century ago - sneaking in contemporary music between old favourites. Remind your avant-gardists of what Ernest Newman wrote in 1925: "There is not a single case in musical history of a composer being a century ahead of his time: the greatest composers have all been perfectly comprehensible to the average instructed music-lover of their day." Before putting in your squeaky-hinge stuff, remember that the BBC has a lot to make up to tonal composers who were effectively banned during the Glock/Keller dodecaphonic nuclear winter; some had their careers effectively ruined. Only one Vaughan Williams cycle in 36 years! BBC Music Department should be ashamed.

And give the Last Nighters something worth laughing at: there are drawersful of gloriously witty musical jokes (not Hoffnungesque slapstick, either). Have you still got my address?

Gavin Bryars, composer of `The Sinking of the Titanic' and `Jesus' Blood'

On the few occasions we've met you have always struck me as a thoroughly decent bloke. I wonder if I might offer a couple of friendly thoughts as you start to create your own ethos?

1. Don't programme anything in your first year that has anything to do with anyone's birthday or centenary.

2. If you are going to have late night Proms make the one that is conventionally second the earlier of the two. It will help those who have turned up faithfully over the years to get home without taxis. Those who attend the "safer" programme which is now second, for example a Beethoven or Mozart concert, can have dinner first.

3. Abandon the Last Night and make it merely the last night. To avoid any possibility of excess give this concert to the Hilliard Ensemble performing an all-Gesualdo programme. .

4. Play more pieces by living composers which are not Prom commissions.

5. Commission composers outside the modernist mainstream, for example John White (whose 60th birthday, to waive temporarily rule 1, is in 1996).

6. If we're going to have a minimalist input let's have a concert by Terry Riley for once (which would loosen up performers).

Gavin Henderson, director of Dartington Summer School and principal of Trinity College of Music, London

Tamper with a successful and much loved formula at your peril! However, some of William Glock's iconoclastic endeavour has slipped - and could be revisited. I miss the Roundhouse and smaller scale. There could be other venues and "site specific" locations to explore. Closer to home - at, say, the Royal College Concert Halls - mid-week late nights and weekend day times could be given to more experimental work - both old and new.

We've talked about mixing Cage and Ketelbey, but why not admit more of the Victorian and Edwardian repertoire, Bax, Bantock (especially in 1996 - the Celtic Symphony, for instance), Brian and Bridge and some more of the American pioneers - Cowell, Ruggles and Lou Harrison with Javanese gamelan; and of course more jazz...

Foibles and favourites, I know - which brings me on to food. I loathe that part of South Kensington for its lack of cafe society - why not some al fresco and location catering in the road around the hall?

Tunde Jegede (left) and Paul Gladstone-Reid, co-founders of the Axiom Foundation

We commend John Drummond's achievements in his final year as artistic director of the Proms, especially for his commitment to promoting the music of living composers. You should continue in this direction and even take a more international view in your commissioning.

We are already seeing a wealth of composers emerging from Eastern Europe, including Arvo Part, Peteris Vasks and Veljo Tormis; closer to home, in Ireland there is a wealth of music and it would be interesting to see the commissioning of a piece from a composer like Micheal O'Sulleabhain.

Even here in Britain there are new composers whose compositions are rooted in music from other classical traditions. The Proms should make a bold step in promoting cultural harmony between the peoples in Europe by taking a more inter-cultural perspective in concert programming and presentation. They should continue to develop a concept of international classicism by increasing the number of concerts featuring artists from classical traditions outside Europe. This could include Qawali musicians like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Sufi music, Ethiopian Orthodox and Judaic music and the music of the Malian classical school.

David Jones, promoter, head of Serious Productions

The Proms could make a leap of imagination now by highlighting orchestral music written by composers from outside the classical mainstream. Nana Vasconcelos and Egberto Gismonti from Brazil, Anthony Braxton and Michael Mantler from the USA, Matthias Roeg of the Vienna Art Orchestra, John Surman and Andy Sheppard in this country and Terje Rypdal from Norway are among many writing music that brings together improvisation and composition, and the best of it offers new directions and energy for the classical orchestra. It's being played across mainland Europe, but not in England - this country's greatest orchestral series could point a future and a purpose for the orchestra in the next century.

Chris Shurety, of COMA (Contemporary Music Making for Amateurs)

Here is an opportunity to build on Wood's vision of making great music accessible to the widest public. Develop a programme based on breaking down barriers to music-making; the challenge of contemporary music; the relationship between professional and amateur musicians; direct representation of amateur orchestras on stage; more occasions for audience participation and for audience identification with those performing on stage.

The bulk of musicians have been disenfranchised from playing the music of many of the greatest composers of this century. A poor hand has been dealt - of music that is either technically too difficult or pastiche. You have an opportunity to redress the balance, to provide a challenge to the greatest living composers to write strong, radical music for musicians of all abilities, to revitalise the amateur repertoire and to make contemporary music play a much greater part in our musical culture.

Research by Pascal Wyse

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